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Thompson: Common Sense

Guns The Chicago Teachers Union says that as a step in a comprehensive effort alternative school slots should be provided for nonviolent students with chronic behavioral problems. The normative approach is to blame disorder on teachers’ "low expectations" and poor classroom management, but that is as insulting to students as it is to teachers. The mayhem in our schools is obviously due to deeper trauma and the legacy of a far greater set of injustices. The normative approach of just dumping behavioral problems on teachers is like telling a cancer patient to take a couple of aspirin and come back in a few years when the disease has spread.

Colbert King said it best "It's easy to sloganize about the need to build a world-class school system, to cast local education battles as a colossal struggle between the forces of reform and the status quo ...those adult quarrels have no bearing on the paralyzing fear of children who sit in class knowing that trouble waits outside at the end of the day."

We would not need scapegoating if Americans could join King in saying "Simply put, there's a price to be paid for the family breakdown and for irresponsible parents who let the streets raise their children. There's also a price to be paid when a city fails to hold young lawbreakers accountable."

Eric Carlton, president of a group of alternative schools in Chicago, "says school leaders cannot just abandon the use of suspension and expulsion, since doing so could lead to a chaotic environment where students don’t take rules seriously. The key, he argues, is to find balance." But at the same time "parents and students tell him social and emotional issues are hardly considered at their schools because the staff is so overwhelmed."

And teachers must share the blame.  Not every teacher signed up to be a missionary, but surely we can see the urgent need to build relationships with our students.  Few urban teachers are shy about the theorists who refuse to listen to our common sense calls for disciplinary backing. So how can teachers be equally deaf to the pain of alienated students?  The crosses teachers bear are nothing compared to the burdens of so many Black males in our schools who are seeking a place where they are truely welcome.  Why can't teachers be more open to experiments like "restorative justice" intitiated in Chicago?  Teachers, more than most, should recognize the need for "all of the above" - more immediate common sense, even "Old School," consequences, as well as innovative outreach efforts. - John Thompson


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Very good post. Someone at a foundation that shall remain nameless once told me that school safety issues have more to do with teachers' inability to engage their students in substantive learning than with anything else. I held my tongue at the time.

Certainly, teachers share responsibility. But you're quite right to point to all the other factors that influence students' sense of security, especially in our most troubled urban communities. Do you have more examples of what works in these environments?

Restorative justice is only part of the picture needed for creating safer schools. Restorative practices goes beyond the reactive processes of repairing harm in the wake of misbehavior or wrongdoing and proactively builds community in the classroom and beyond. The implementation of restorative practices at West Philadelphia High School, on the "Persistently Dangerous Schools" list for six years running, helped reduce violence and serious incidents in the school by 75% and vastly improve school climate in one year. See video and articles:
Also see article on restorative practices in Scholastic Administrator Magazine: http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3750554

These are some great things for teachers to consider, but school administration needs to keep it in mind too. Prince George's County School administration have made it such that students cannot be suspended for fighting unless it is "serious" or a "repeat offender".

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